Flight 191 Investigation

The Ghost Research Society was the very first paranormal group to ever investigate and visit the crash site of Flight 191 in late June of 1979.

The worst airline disaster in American history occurred May 25, 1979 when American Airlines Flight 191 carrying 258 passengers and a crew of 13 fell from the sky killing all 271 people onboard.  The DC-10, took off from Runway 32 Right at 3:02 p.m. for a non-stop flight to Los Angeles, California.

At an altitude of 200 feet, while climbing and traveling a little more than 200 miles an hour, the left wing engine dropped onto or over the wing and bounced in flames along the concrete runway.  Witnesses said that after the engine fell off, the floundering craft went into a bank, nosed down and erupted into a pillar of flame as it hit the ground a half-mile northwest of the airport.

It slammed into an abandoned hangar on the site of the old Ravenswood Airport at 320 W. Touhy Avenue just east of the Touhy Mobile Home Park.  Two trailer homes were destroyed when hit by flaming debris.  Rescue workers found two bodies on the site of the Courtney-Velo Excavating Company.  They were believed to have been employees of the firm, which occupied one of the old hangars.

Captain Walter Lux, 53, was one of the most experienced DC-10 pilots in the airline; he had been flying the DC-10 since its introduction eight years earlier. He had around 22,000 hours logged, of which about 3,000 were in a DC-10. He was also qualified to pilot 17 other aircraft, including the DC-6, DC-7, and Boeing 727. First Officer James Dillard, 49, and Flight Engineer Alfred Udovich, 56, were also very experienced; they shared over 25,000 flying hours between them, of which 1,830 were in the DC-10.

The plane carried a number of Chicagoans bound for the convention of the American Booksellers Association in Los Angeles.  Among them were Sheldon Wax, 51, managing editor of Playboy magazine; his wife, author Judith Wax, 47; Playboy fiction editor Victoria Chen Haider, 34 and many others.

Among those who were supposed to be onboard Flight 191 were Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) and her mother.

"My mother and I were booked on that American Airlines DC-10 that crashed shortly after takeoff at the Chicago airport,” she said.  “But 10 minutes before we were due to get on I had a psychic flash that warned me of disaster.

“I begged my mother to change our flight and an hour later we learned that all 271 people onboard had been killed.  I haven’t doubted a single premonition since.”

There are those who’ve claimed to have visions or premonitions regarding a major airline disaster weeks or months before they happened.  In Cincinnati, Ohio, David Booth’s life was about to be turned upside down.

Before May 1979, David had led an average life.  He was married and raising a family.  He had never had psychic-type dreams before.  But one morning, he was jarred awake by a dream of an impending airline crash.

“On the morning of May 16th, I had a dream.  I’m looking out to my right over a field and there’s this great big jet and it wasn’t making the noise that it should.  It wasn’t a feeling of impending doom or that it was going to crash or anything.  It just wasn’t making the sound that it should.  It just turns, with its wing up in the air, goes on its back and then it goes straight into the ground and explodes.  When the explosion would begin to die out, that’s when I would begin to wake up,” he said.

The next night he went to bed exhausted hoping that this night was more restful and that he wouldn’t have the dream again.  He dreamt it again and when he woke up, he discovered that he had been crying.  The main feeling that he had was urgency.  Feeling compelled to do something; to act. 

 As the week progressed and the dream repeated itself every night, David found it harder to ignore but still kept the dream to himself. 

Tuesday, May 22nd, David had the dream for the seventh night in a row.  He felt that he could have no peace until he did something.  David contacted the Cincinnati office of the Federal Aviation Administration and spoke to facilities manager, Paul Williams.

“The first thing David described to me was the type of aircraft he thought it was.  First of all he identified it as an American Airlines plane.  I asked him if he knew specifically what type of aircraft it was but David didn’t know one type of aircraft from another,” says Williams. 

Williams asked David to search his dream in an effort to try to retrieve more information about the type of aircraft or any other details he could remember.  But each night it came back frustratingly the same.  All that week they spent hours reviewing the details.  He described an airplane with an engine on the tail rather than in the tail and Williams identified that as a DC-10.

At the start of the Memorial Day weekend, David had the dream for the tenth time.  Somehow he knew he would never have the dream again.  He was on the brink of a nervous collapse and went home early that day.  It was 4 o’clock; 3 o’clock at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

When Williams had received the news from Chicago, he was sure that what David Booth had described to him before the fact, had actually come to pass.  After David found out what had happened, he emotionally just fell apart.  He immediately telephoned Paul Williams.  Williams said that he believed that David was blaming himself for not getting enough information soon enough to avert the disaster. Williams, however, assured him that he had done everything that he could have.

Was David’s dream actually about the ill-fated crash of Flight 191?  All the facts seemed to add up including how the plane banked sharply to its left after losing an engine to nose-diving soon after takeoff.  Even the type and brand of airline was correct.  It is William’s opinion that David was chosen to receive this dream for some reason known only to God.

Author, Judith Wax was one of many who perished that day in 1979.  She was bound to Los Angeles to promote her new book, “Starting In The Middle” about the middle-age life.  An ironic twist of fate or coincidence can be found on page 191 of her book where she describes her fear of flying in airplanes. “When the job required travel, I developed such a fear of airplanes my head trembled from takeoff to landing...” Of course the flight was 191 the same as the page in her book!

Located at: near the trailer court at 320 W. Touhy Ave., Des Plaines, IL 60016

Hauntings: Since the crash, animals, especially dogs, in the nearby Touhy Mobile Home Park had barked constantly at the field where the crash occurred for no apparent reason.  Their owners could not see anything out of the ordinary that would disturb the animals to such a barking frenzy.

A more recent sighting was described a man walking his dog very near to where the plane went down.  A young man who was frantically trying to find a pay telephone to make an emergency phone call approached him.  The dog-walker remembered that the man had an offensive odor of jet fuel and seemed to be smoldering.  At first he assumed that the man had been jogging and that it was simply steam coming off his overheated body.  As he turned to point to a nearby telephone and turned back to the strange figure, he had disappeared into thin air!  There was absolutely nowhere for the figure to vanish in such a short space of time.

Allegedly the sounds of cries and moans emanate from the field where the crash occurred and sometimes the whine of a nearby engine followed by a crash.  Of course, nothing is visible to the naked eye.

Travelers coming through O’Hare Airport have purportedly seen a young man making a telephone call from a booth located close to the ill-fated departure gate of Flight 191.  He is alleged to take a few steps after finishing his call before vanishing in front of astonished eyes!

Some from the trailer court, very close to the crash site remember people knocking on their trailer doors in the middle of the night and when responding, find no one there.

Anywhere that so many lives are extinguished instantaneously can be a breeding ground for future paranormal activity.  I sincerely hope, however, that those unfortunate victims are at last at rest!

Equipment setup: A static camcorder was placed facing the crash site along with an REM Epod.

Experiments performed: SB-7 Ghost Box and Ovilus X sessions were conducted at the gates of the trucking terminal which wasn’t there at the time of the crash but which marks more closely to where the demolished hanger would have been and also nearer to the crash site along the cyclone fencing as we were unable to gain actual access to the property. Full spectrum pictures of the crash site were taken along with regular digital pictures. A Melmeter 8704-REM, Tri-Field Natural EM Meter, K-II Meter, digital recorder, Infrasound detector, REM Epod and a cellphone used to play back news reports from the day of the accident as well as another digital tape recorder that I brought along that had the flight cockpit crews last words before that plane crashed. We used that as trigger sounds to illicit any responses from the other side.

A follow-up investigation was held on May 25, 2013. Team members included: Stan Suho, Jim Piscopo, and Dale Kaczmarek with help from Len Novak, Serena Mertl and Aimee Jaremowicz of The Illinois Ghost Society.  








Personal experiences: I did have the unique opportunity of visiting this location a few weeks after the crash and was able to gain access to the actual crash site. What remained there at the time was a bunch of earth that had been overturned and bull-dozed over in an attempt to recover anything for the families of the victims. It was an eerie and sobering experience!

During this follow-up investigation, marking the 34th anniversary of the actual crash, The Illinois Ghost Society, had contacted security in an attempt to gain access to the physical property but were turned away. The security company claims to constantly get requests from other paranormal groups to access the property and up until the present it has only been accessed by family members and a K-9 training facility nearby. Our group will try again next year to try to actually get on the property which will mark the 35th anniversary of the crash.

I did not feel anything out of the ordinary but a great deal of sadness did overcome me once or twice while walking the perimeter of the site. The Infrasound detector did pick up extremely high readings of infrasound that seemed to be very localized just to the east of the trucking terminal building and nowhere else. The Melmeter did pick up unusually high readings (1.7 and above) near the gates to the terminal which would have been very close to the trailer court and the crash site. During the Ovilus session several first names came through who were later matched with the passenger list. While conducting an Ovilus session near the gates of the terminal the Ovilus said, “Hey” at the same time that another person’s K-II went into the red and the word “movie” came through during the time that Serena was playing the news reports videos on her cellphone. Back in 1979 they didn’t have that type of technology and were perhaps curious of what that was, so “movie” came across.

Jim Piscopo: We arrived at 4:00pm and walked around the grounds. I took pictures with my Fuji 1000 and took temps with my pyrometer. After this I set up my Sony DVD92 Handycam by the fence overlooking the field of the crash site. We did an EVP by the truck yard and also by the fence line. I was using my RCA digital voice recorder for the EVPs.

We left around 6pm to go to the 191 memorial; I took some pictures and laid my recorder on the wall. We left this site at about 6:30. I did not have any unusual experiences at this investigation.


Stan Suho: Since this was an investigation of a restricted site, we were limited in time and scope. The area had a perimeter fence around it so we weren't able to gain access to the actual crash site. We were limited to using Video Cameras (daylight) and various EVP devices. I made a partial walk around with my VHS Camera taping as much of the grounds as possible also took lots of 35 mm photos of the group and the area. Then I joined the group in EVP experiments with a Digital audio Recorder. Since this was a daylight investigation along Touhy Ave , the background noise was considerable. We wrapped up after about an hour and a half.

It would be nice to actually get onto the site with a full crew during the night hours. I think this place would be a gold mine for Ghost researchers.  

Conclusion: After reviewing my tapes and photos I could find nothing paranormal.

Evidence collected:

Almost made it need power.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, a question was asked, “How about the flight engineer?” The Ghost Box responds with, “Almost made it” and a few seconds later, “Need (sic) power.”

Flight one flight 191.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, the Ghost Box says, “Flight 1..” and never finishes the rest. I believe it might have been trying to say the flight number just as it crashed. We will never know for sure as the last word spoken before they lost contact with the flight crew was, “Damn.”

Hey flight 191.MPG during an Ovilus X session near the terminal gates the Ovilus says, “Hey” at the same time another researcher’s K-II went into the red.

Not good flight 191.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, a comment was made, “You actually flew the plane further than most people thought you could.” The Ghost Box responds with, “Not good.”

Walter flight 191.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, a question was asked, “Is Captain Lux here? What’s your first name?” The Ghost Box responds with a faint-sounding, “Walter.”

Wax James flight 191.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, a question was asked, “Is the First Officer here? What’s your name?” The Ghost Box responds with a female voice that clearly says, “Wax” (Judith Wax?) A few seconds later it says, “James.”

Yes flight 191.MPG during a Ghost Box session near the fence, a question was asked, “Is the pilot from Flight 191 here?” The Ghost Box immediately responds with, “Yes.”

Conclusions: First of all, it would have better in my opinion to have gained access to the physical ground of the crash site instead of just near the site; however we made do with what we had. Also being there right at the time of the crash on the day of the crash is perhaps more conducive for anything that might still be residual in the area. We weren’t able to employ any Nightshot or Infrared devices due to it still being daylight so only full spectrum still pictures and ordinary video was shot at the location.

With more than thirty years since the original crash, one has to wonder if there is much left to the idea of residual hauntings still attached to this region especially due to the fact that the current trucking terminal was built right on part of the spot that the jet actually crashed. Sometimes this can create additional phenomena, while, at times, it can have a calming effect on the environment and paranormal activity.

I would like to try one more investigation next year with the 35th anniversary coming up and be on spot at 3:02pm when the flight crashed and even perhaps be able to conduct a bit of nighttime investigation as the recovery and search for bodies went on through much of the night the first day as well.

There is a memorial for all the victims of the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in Lake Park at the corner of Lee and Howard Streets in Des Plaines directly behind the big sign that says Lake Park.

Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
© 2013 Dale Kaczmarek. All rights reserved.
Web site created by Dale Kaczmarek